Teen’s Breakthrough in Organic Electrochemical Transistors Wins $75,000 Prize

Teen’s Breakthrough in Organic Electrochemical Transistors Wins $75,000 Prize

Grace Sun, a 16-year-old high school student from Lexington, Kentucky, has made a groundbreaking discovery in biomedical engineering.

Her research on improving organic electrochemical transistors (OECTs) earned her the top prize of $75,000 at the prestigious Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Sun’s work has the potential to revolutionize medical implants and lead to new early-diagnosis tools for a wide range of diseases.

OECTs are a promising alternative to traditional silicon-based devices for biomedical applications due to their soft and flexible nature. However, as Sun points out, “They have performance issues right now. They have instability in the body. You don’t want some sort of implanted bioelectronic to degrade in your body.” These challenges have hindered the widespread adoption of OECTs in medical devices.

Despite the current limitations, OECTs hold immense potential for biomedical applications. Due to their organic composition, OECTs are more accurate, faster, and safer than silicon-based devices. They can consider signals in the body that previous electronics have not, making them suitable for heart and brain implants. Additionally, sensitive OECTs could detect disease biomarkers in bodily fluids long before traditional symptoms appear, enabling early diagnosis.

Regeneron ISEF 2024 Winners PhotoAbove -Congratulations to Krish Pai, Grace Sun and Michelle Wei – the top winners at the 2024 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, California

To address the performance issues of OECTs, Sun developed a novel technique involving “doping” the devices with organic salts. By introducing these chemical impurities, she aimed to observe how they affected the electrical properties of the OECTs. Sun tested a series of organic salts to determine their impact on device performance.

Sun’s research revealed that one particular salt, tetrabutylammonium chloride, significantly improved the performance of OECTs. This salt enhanced the device’s amplification abilities, sensitivity, signal-to-noise ratio, and switching speed. Specifically, Sun found that tetrabutylammonium chloride improved amplification performance by 97% and switching speed by 77%. These substantial improvements could pave the way for developing highly effective biomedical devices.

oect abstract

The enhanced performance of OECTs achieved through Sun’s technique could enable the creation of biomedical devices capable of detecting early signs of disease in the body’s biochemical makeup. Sensitive OECTs could identify proteins or nucleic acids associated with diseases long before conventional symptoms manifest. This early detection could significantly improve patient outcomes and treatment effectiveness.

Sun’s research also holds promise for developing less invasive medical implants. OECTs could eventually replace more intrusive devices, such as pacemakers, due to their soft and flexible nature. By improving the stability and performance of OECTs, Sun’s work brings us closer to realising these next-generation medical implants.

The Regeneron ISEF, organized by the Society for Science, is the world’s largest pre-college STEM competition. Described as the “Olympics of science” or the “granddaddy of all science fairs” by judging chair Christopher Gould, ISEF brings together nearly 2,000 students from around the globe to showcase their research and compete for prestigious awards.

Sun’s research underwent rigorous evaluation by a panel of judges in the materials science category. Ian Jandrell, a judging co-chair, emphasized the significance of Sun’s work, stating, “This was our number one project, without a shadow of a doubt.” The judges were impressed by the sophistication and diligence of Sun’s research, as well as her ability to articulate her findings and respond to questions effectively.

Sun’s achievement is the result of months of hard work and dedication. She spent over six months working on her project, often leaving school early to spend long hours in a lab at the University of Kentucky. The devices she worked on were tiny, fitting on a thumbnail, but the impact of her research is far-reaching.

Looking ahead, Sun aspires to pursue a career in chemical engineering to continue improving medicine. She hopes to make a commercializable breakthrough with her OECT research and eventually start a business to bring her devices to market. Sun’s ultimate goal is to directly and meaningfully impact people’s lives through her work.

Grace Sun demonstrates the potential of young minds in driving scientific innovation. Her groundbreaking research has opened new possibilities for early disease detection and less invasive medical implants. As Sun continues her journey in chemical engineering, her work holds the promise of transforming healthcare and improving countless lives.


– Grace Sun, a 16-year-old from Kentucky, won $75,000 for her research on improving organic electrochemical transistors (OECTs) at the Regeneron ISEF.

– OECTs have potential for biomedical applications but face performance and stability challenges.

– Sun developed a novel technique of doping OECTs with organic salts, finding that tetrabutylammonium chloride significantly improved device performance.

– Sun’s research could lead to early disease detection and less invasive medical implants.

– Sun aspires to commercialize her breakthrough and start a business to impact people’s lives directly.

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